I’ve written, removed and rewritten this post several times because it’s hard to find the right words.
Charles Leclerc wasn’t my favourite to start the 2016 GP3 season. No offence to him, I had just invested my time and support in a couple of other rookies instead but circumstances change and I found myself, clenched fists, cheering him on as he took each chequered flag.
There is no denying that Charles’ driving last season was nothing short of outstanding. After taking his first GP3 victory in race 1 at Barcelona, he became a regular feature on the podium, even gracing the top step another two times before earning the title of GP3 Champion.
Not only was he racing with ART, one of the top teams of the series, he was also completing the occasional practice for HAAS F1. The opportunity to demonstrate his skills in a F1 car was something Charles, like all other drivers and public alike, jumped at and grasped with both hands. He completed 26 laps in the HAAS car, placing 18th in the Free Practice stats ahead of Ocon, Ericcson, Wehrlein and Haryanto. Impressive for his first go, right?
Okay, I may have mislead you and I’d be lying if I said my change in support wasn’t influenced slightly. Jules Bianchi was, and still is, my favourite F1 driver, so much so that I carry his now retired race number on the back of my neck.
Jules was the one who mentored Charles; nurturing his talent and bringing him to the attention of the Ferrari Academy. Not only was he Charles’ Godfather but he was also his friend so, naturally, the loss of this combined figure in his life had a profound effect.
For the worst?
Charles used his dedication and love for Jules, channelling it towards making him proud every day with his amazing talent so he could carry on the legacy that Jules was unfortunately unable to.
It’s not just his natural driving talent or his love for his Godfather that made him my favourite. It’s his genuine nature, his respect for his team and other drivers as well as his interaction with fans. *We know you search your own name on Twitter, Mr Leclerc, but I forgive you*.
His radio messages and dedicated posts to his team are filled with pure joy and gratitude towards them for their work.
Charles’ messages to the likes of Alexander Albon after he narrowly missed out on the Championship title are heartwarming displays of affection that are rarely seen in the world of F1.
The simple like of a tweet by fans just to show that he’s seen your comment is more than a lot will do.
So, thank you Charles. Thank you for everything. For your constant entertainment and staying so very human.
Jules would be so proud of you, just like the rest of us.
Merci beaucoup et bonne chance.